I think you'll agree that when it comes to taking quick and decisive action, few people equal the Rev. Essie Boatwright.

When the Philadelphia minister found herself in a foreclosure bind, she was "proactive and savvy," says Pam Engle of the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley.

Boatwright had made payment arrangements with her Florida-based lender on a North Philadelphia property she bought in 1991 for $3,100 and used to shelter homeless people rent-free.

But the arrangements were not as solid as she had been led to believe. "It actually was sold at sheriff's sale" for $2,300, Boatwright says.

Unable to pay a lawyer, she spent hours studying at the law library at Eighth and Chestnut Streets and managed to get the house back, racking up $38 in legal costs.

The property's buyer, on learning that she was a minister and what she was using the house for, declined to fight for it, Boatwright says, and decided to write off what he paid for the place.

What makes Boatwright unusual is that when faced with a financial problem, she chose not to bury her head in the sand, hoping that it would somehow fix itself.

Too often, people who are behind in bill payments avoid opening late notices from their credit card companies, the bank, their mortgage lender or the utility company, or refuse to answer the phone.

It doesn't make the problem go away. It aggravates it, and the outcome is rarely what was hoped for.

People like Boatwright have the right idea: You have a problem, you do something about it - and do it quickly.

What perplexes me, though, is that too often we see a problem coming a mile away and we stand there and say, "Maybe everything will work out," and just let it happen.

Textbook example: Say I apply for a mortgage. The broker tells me that there is a cap on the interest rate and no prepayment penalty for when I try to refinance in, say, two years. But when I show up at settlement, I learn that there is no such cap, and that there is, indeed, a hefty prepayment penalty.

I sign on the dotted line anyway, because I really want this house even though I won't be able to afford it in nine months. Maybe everything will be OK.

We are a nation of complainers, yet we seem more than eager to be screwed over. That way, we'll always have something to grouse about, and we can try to find someone else to blame.

"Why don't you blame the Realtors for this?" some guy e-mailed me in response to a recent story I wrote about people on the brink of foreclosure. Well, it seems to me that the blame starts with poorly educated consumers and goes from there. Everyone shares it equally.

Trulia.com, a real estate Web site, commissioned a Harris Poll on Americans' knowledge about foreclosure. Almost 20 percent of men ages 18 to 34 didn't know what a foreclosure is, according to the survey's results, and nearly 20 percent of singles didn't either.

More than 50 percent would consider purchasing a foreclosed home, but 70 percent believe there are negative aspects to buying one, citing hidden costs, the home's losing value, or simply that buying one was a risk.

Those attitudes don't surprise me. Many homeowners in mortgage trouble can't keep up repairs on their houses, so what the buyer in a foreclosure sale is getting is often not in move-in condition.

The publicity from posting the property for sheriff's sale doesn't help either.

"Potential borrowers feel they can buy the home for less if they see the posting," said Peter Buchsbaum of Arlington Capital Mortgage in Jenkintown. "We need to figure out a better way, because the inability to sell, due to the stigma of the posted sale, only exacerbates the problem."

By the way, after Boatwright and Engle finally got the property back and the mortgage mess fixed, Boatwright's lender informed her that her house was headed for sheriff's sale.

She is, of course, working on the problem. I wouldn't have expected less.

What are you waiting for?

"On the House" appears Sundays in

The Inquirer. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.